2nd June 2014: Startup of the week: Science Exchange

For my second 'Startup of the week' post, I caught up with US based, Elizabeth Iorns , co-founder of Science Exchange.

[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with Science Exchange]

1. What is Science Exchange?
Science Exchange is an online marketplace where researchers can order experiments from the world's best labs.




2. Could you explain the essence of Science Exchange, i.e. it's core values?
Our core mission is to transform research by using market-based incentives to promote collaboration between scientists. We believe this will improve the quality and efficiency of scientific research.

3. You went through Y Combinator and launched in August 2011, what impact have you made since launch?  
Since our launch we have made a significant impact on the research community. Science Exchange has already enabled NASA to discover the blackest material ever measured, and researchers from across the US to access the latest DNA sequencing technology available from only three labs in the world. In the last year alone, thousands of researchers have used Science Exchange to conduct millions of dollars worth of experimental research. We are really excited about the impact of Science Exchange the research community.

4. What's the business model you're operating under?
When an experiment is ordered by a researcher from one of our verified labs, we facilitate the payment for the project and charge a small fee (~5% of the value of the project).

5. Why isn't anyone else doing what you're doing?
There are now several competitors attempting various versions of what we are doing. Our major advantage is our deep commitment to providing a great user experience for both our labs and our researchers. This has led to Science Exchange obtaining significant liquidity. It is very difficult for a competitor to disrupt a marketplace with liquidity.

6. Was there one moment which compelled you to begin the journey of working on DNA Digest?
The idea for Science Exchange came from my own experience as a breast cancer biologist. I found that I was increasingly dependent on collaborators to conduct experiments for my research project using specialized techniques that my lab was not set up for. The exponential rise in the number of co-authors on research papers reflects this same experience for other researchers. I found that it is very difficult to incentivize the best researchers to conduct experiments for your research project in exchange for a future favor or middle authorship on a paper. To solve this problem, my co-founder and I came up with a new model of collaboration, which enables researchers to purchase experiments from the world's best labs. We have found that this effectively aligns researchers incentives, promoting collaboration.

7. What have reactions to Science Exchange? Has the scientific community welcomed your innovation?
Yes - researchers have welcomed Science Exchange. We found that researchers were very unhappy with traditional 'bartering' models of collaboration and often felt that collaboration was one-sided and benefited only one of the parties. Science Exchange removes this inequity, providing a much better experience for researchers.

8. Do you see a future where patient groups could contract tests via Science Exchange and thus conduct scientific research about themselves by themselves? i.e. Citizen Science 
Sure! We have already had examples of use cases like this. One involved a patient that needed very deep sequencing coverage of their tumor genome. We've also had high school students use Science Exchange to conduct breakthrough research. We believe that Science Exchange can democratize access to the world's best labs so that anyone can conduct cutting edge research.

9. As more people on Earth start using the internet, do you see startups like Science Exchange coming from countries like India or Brazil?
Yes, and what is exciting about this type of globalization is that the people from these countries are best equipped to identify exciting business opportunities to solve unmet needs in these countries. They will be the founders of start-ups that innovate to solve their own problems.

10. If people feel inspired by your journey, and want to do something in Science to improve Global Health, what would your words of wisdom be?
Make a start. It is a cheesy quote but "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". It can feel overwhelming to think about solving a really hard problem or starting a company, but once you make a start then you will be amazed at how much progress you can make.

Elizabeth Iorns & Science Exchange are both on Twitter and click here for the Science Exchange website.